Originally published 6/9/17.
- 2/23/20. Added Video Shootout and updates to the 400 series as a whole.
- 4/5/22. Article revisit.
- 5/20/22. Article revisit.
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Small Disclaimer before we get into things: HiFiMan has been having ongoing quality control issues for quite some time now, mostly with the cable connection. My video shootout goes into much depth about my overall impressions of the big 4, including Drop’s HE-4XX, the original 400i, the 400S, and the Sundara. It should also be noted that Audio Advice (a store I frequent to demo these models) has stopped carrying HiFiMan products due to said issues. Your mileage may vary. More in the video below!
- 2022 Update: Most of the above issues have been rectified, but read on for a more in-depth explanation!
Also, all of my final impressions of the big 4 can be found here in the HiFiMan 400 Series Shootout!
Greetings friend and Welcome aboard!!
Before we get into the HIFIMAN HE400S Review, grab a snack, sit back and relax because…
You’ve come to the right place!!
Now without further ado, let’s get rolling!!
- Price: Amazon | Check eBay!
- Design: Planar Magnetic.
- Type: Open Back.
- Fit: Circumaural (Over-ear).
- Driver Size: 80mm. What is a Headphone Driver?
- Frequency Response: 20Hz – 20kHz.
- Efficiency: 98dB.
- Impedance: 22 Ohms. What is Headphone Impedance?
- Weight: 12 Oz. (350 grams).
- Color: Silver with Black trim.
- Accessories: 1/4″ headphone adapter, headphone cable (1.5m).
Man, I really loved the 400S when I first heard them years ago.
A local Home Theater store, Audio Advice, lends out headphones for auditions but you can also listen with your own sources and music inside the store!
At first, I didn’t have a strong reaction either way. As I continued listening to them it was like a light bulb went off and I couldn’t believe how phenomenal they sounded even out of my smartphone (I use Android).
At that time, I was using both Spotify and Deezer as my sources, as well as the Bryston BHA-1 and more recently a NAIM DAC V-1.
I believe most of Spotify’s songs are 192 kbps, but if you’re a premium member you get the coveted 320kbps. The more you can listen with high-quality source files the better your listening experience will be.
This is especially true with a headphone like the 400S as it’s very honest and revealing when it comes to sub-par source material.
Build & Comfort
To start things off, the original 400S felt rather flimsy in your hand and I believe was actually a bit lighter than the original 400i.
Even despite that, the model I demoed seemed to take the abuse quite well but you could see where the paint chipped off on the side.
You may also remember that the design of these was quite strange with regard to the headband and adjustment mechanism, but the cups fully rotated around which isn’t utilized in the newer models or even the updated 400se.
Despite the headband itself being made of metal, the rest of the build was plastic and I remember it feeling rather light for the asking price.
The original cups were velour, and you also had the option to replace them with HIFIMAN’s Focus pads, a variety that was essentially the same – only they had a leather material on the outside rather than being all velour.
The original stock cable was also a complaint from guys like Metal571, and I would have to agree.
My biggest issue was that it wasn’t malleable at all and held its shape way too much. In other words, it was a gigantic pain in the ass and drew unnecessary attention to itself.
Comfort was really good, but the cups tend to flatten out and wear down rather quickly over time. I also remember the headphones sagging to where the top of the cups would slide down and touch the tops of my ears which got rather irritating after a while.
Clamping force is quite good though, and overall the headphones could be worn for extended listening sessions without fatigue.
The original 400S opted for a crisp, snappy sound with a more laid-back treble response than the slightly-too-essy-sounding 400i.
There’s still sparkle there and it still sounds mostly “HIFIMAN”, but I firmly believe the 400S was originally the least bright out of the original crop.
In other words, I never found it to be overbearing or sibilant sounding whereas with the 400i you can clearly hear it’s a bit overly bright.
Now, in relation to an HD600, the 400S’s treble is most certainly brighter.
I remember the bass notes here digging down rather deep while having excellent detail and articulation which is a hallmark of the planar sound.
The one issue you’ll run into is that the bass still tends to roll off perhaps a little more than it should which is something Metal talked about in his review.
I would have to agree. At times it almost felt too light, too safe sounding for lack of a better term.
The mid-range here is classic HIFIMAN. There’s a subtle rise/peak at 1kHz followed by a gentle slope down into 2kHz and then coming back up again at 3.
For the most part, I’ve always loved this signature but at times it can sound a little too relaxed and laid back – something you’ll notice over time with many hours of listening.
One thing I disagree with Metal over is the treble as I always found it more articulate and faster than an HD600s, but your mileage may vary.
- Comfortable overall, but there is a caveat. More on that in Stu’s notepad.
- The bass is tight and very detailed. It’s there when it needs to be or when the song calls for it.
- Very detail-oriented. I was starting to hear new things in songs I’ve heard a thousand times. The 400S is a very subtle type of headphone in that it exposes things that you normally would never hear or pay attention to.
- Great instrument separation. They have this knack for spreading things out very evenly. More on that in Stu’s notepad.
- Great mid-range. Vocals and instruments really come alive. They have this fantastic crispness about them that really makes you want to smile and tell someone.
- The L-shaped plug is a pain with the Otter Box. Mine frequently popped loose if I just set the phone down on my lap face up.
- The braided cable is kind of awkward and doesn’t move freely about like I would prefer. It also seems prone to breaking down, which is a common complaint among-st reviewers.
Here I compiled all of my impressions of the big 4 since 2017!
Click to see the 400S!
I remember it playing extremely well with my phone without an amp and it hardly needs any juice at all to get going.
The thing to remember with these is that they pair best with an amp that’s not overly sterile/clean sounding, at least in my opinion.
I think that will only accentuate the treble and make it sound a bit too bright, so stick with something around the 1 Ohm range like a Zen or K5 Pro.
- Classic Rock
- Indie Pop
- New Age
- Hip-Hop. No, they’re not a bass head’s headphone, but listening to some of my favorite artists on Soundcloud I started to hear things that I hadn’t before. It was like I was aware of the artist and how they intended for the mix to come out.
With the Focus Pads (replacement earpads), more bass-driven music comes to life. The problem with this is that they cost an additional $40 when they should be included for no extra cost, or used as the original earpads!
It really defeats the entire purpose. They also add bass at the expense of the luscious 3D sound signature.
I do think the pads here are a weak point, but I would rather get an exact replacement of the originals than sacrifice the great Soundstage for more bass. I just don’t feel like I personally need more, but some people did complain about it.
Stu’s Notepad & Final Impressions
The bass on this headphone is very lean, dare I say light, but man it’s detailed. If the song was mixed with more bass, you’ll know. If it wasn’t, you’ll know.
What I love about it is that it feels integrated within the mix.
It’s not like, “Hey man here I am. Pay attention to me.” It’s more like that leader who leads by example rather than always spouting his mouth off.
It’s also never in your face or too loud, even if the song calls for it. It sits beautifully in its place.
The comfort is pretty decent overall, but there are a couple of issues: One is the ear pads. They tend to deflate over time, leading to an awkward fit.
Whereas a headphone like the HD600 has a rather tight clamp, the 400S loses its ability to stay on your head properly because of the ear-cup issue.
As mentioned earlier, the cups may slide down and hurt the tops of your ears.
I frequently had to push up to remedy the problem. You may say, “Well, just adjust the headband.” Unfortunately, I still experienced the issue regardless.
The good news is that you can replace the ear cups, which you will most definitely need to do over time.
As alluded to earlier, this is a very detailed sound. Little things really start to come out in the song, and you get a clear understanding of how the artist intended for the mix to sound.
I can’t overstate this enough: This is a very subtle type of headphone.
You’re going to love sitting back with these and marveling at the finer points. You may have heard Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar a thousand times.
I know I have.
But I still caught stuff that I had never heard before. Specifically, there are a couple of sounds at around the :52 mark that became prominent when they had never made themselves known in the past.
There’s also a guitar that trails off at 48 seconds that I never noticed too. These seemingly small things like attack, sustain, and decay help to complete the song and make it sound whole, and the way the 400S presents it is fresh and exciting.
The Soundstage is pretty remarkable in my opinion. Everything seems to be meticulously placed in a specific area, so as to bring the song together as a cohesive unit rather than just frequencies existing in space.
So many times we hear a song and stuff starts to run together.
The bass may be overbearing and interfere with the clarity of the mids. Or the treble may be too bright and distract us from hearing the bass.
The 400S handles the spectrum with ease and truly reveals what the instrument is supposed to sound like. What is Timbre?
On Pink Floyd’s Money, I heard this weird guitar in the background that I had never noticed before. It became astonishingly clear to the point of me feeling a bit uneasy.
Again, the 400S has this uncanny ability to spread out sounds like butter on toast. It’s really refreshing, so wash it down with some Apple Juice, baby!
A phenomenal sounding headphone with some potential build issues and a weird wonky cable. You will definitely want to go aftermarket here.
Gets a tad uncomfortable over time, and the earpads tend to want to deflate even though they seem to be made of velour.
Even despite their issues, I would still probably buy these and be completely fine with them. They’re not going to be your on-the-go headphone by any means, nor even your primary one. But good golly they sound amazing. I’m not even exaggerating here.
If you’re thinking of getting these, don’t think twice, but I’d get the updated 400se which is now my #1 Overall recommendation in mid-fi for many reasons.
Interested in learning more?
Well that’s about it for today my friend! I hope you’ve enjoyed this HIFIMAN HE400S Review.
Questions? Comments? Requests? Did I miss the mark on something? Please let me know down below or Contact me!!
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Which of these tickles YOUR pickle? Would you invest in the 400S? I would love to hear from you. Until next time..
All the best and God bless,